Medicine Tree

Living and working so far from my Grandmother’s Country takes its toll on me at times so when I travel home I make a point of visiting this tree, a Gumbi Gumbi tree. I’ve never known the name of this it in my Grandmothers language, and I never knew its common or botanically name until I was an adult, but what I did know from a young age was that it was Medicine that would heal me. I live on the opposite side of Australia to my ancestral Country and I had an Aunt, my other mother, who could always ‘read between the lines’ of our phone calls and knew when I needed to come home. When I did she would plan a day for us to go driving out on Country, and on the way find some Gumbi Gumbi trees to make tea with. It was a little unspoken ritual that we had which did so much to recharge my soul.

This particular tree is special to me as it’s in a cemetery I’ve visited since childhood. It is where some of my Old People (Elders) have been laid to rest. It is where my Mum lies, not too far from her Grandfather, John Darlow. My great grandmother, Polly Darlow (nee Williams) and great uncle, Harry ‘Bunda’ Darlow, are also there. In recent times my nephew and sister were laid to rest there, in the company of our Old People. My Mum’s Grandfather, John Darlow, had a traditional role for Medicine & Healing amongst our People, and was called upon to travel across tribal boundaries to carry out his responsibilities. Growing up in Dalby I can still recall descendants of pastoral families in the district that would speak with respect of my great Grandfather, and his reverential standing in his community. As a woman it’s not my place to know the full extent of the work he would have done, particularly in regard to ceremonial things, but I feel blessed knowing that I have someone who had such an important responsibility.

The Gumbi Gumbi tree has been known as a Medicine tree to Aboriginal people in the ‘Brigalow Belt’ of Central & Southern Qld for many generations, and they are dotted throughout the landscape back home. The words Gumby Gumby translate to Woman Woman in the Ghungalu language, which by the way is not my Grandmothers language. It is widely known of, and there are many businesses now that market it due to its medicinal qualities. Interestingly in 2017 a non-Indigenous company attempted to trademark the name, and have exclusive rights to the words Gumby Gumby, but common sense prevailed and the bid was unsuccessful.

In a time when COVID taught the whole world a lesson in the importance of connection and nurturing our mental health & wellbeing I was blessed to have grown up with this knowledge, and visual reminders, of it whenever I’m back home on Country, I even have a picture of the tree in bloom, which is on my desk, on the opposite side of Australia. When things are getting a bit too hectic for me I take a moment to stop, look at this Medicine tree and replenish my resilience cup.

Isabelle West – Turbane
3 March 2024